The Feeling Thermometer, or "Everyone dislikes Mormons"

The new book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us is based largely on a 2006 “Faith Matters” survey, conceived by some of the brightest political and religious studies minds of our time. Using their snazzy sociological doo-dads, authors Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell used over 3,000 responses to their two-wave panel study to check the American pulse on matters religious.1

The authors wished to take the temperature of the country’s religious affinity and hostility.  Their “feeling thermometer consists of asking respondents to indicate how warm they feel toward different social groups (or people, or institutions, or whatever) on a scale of 0 to 100…[This] turns out to be an effective way of gauging the gut-level feeling people have toward different groups” (502). The thermometer can show how a given group feels about itself and how it is viewed by other groups, as well as the respective affinity or hostility of those feelings.

So how do Mormons stack up?

On the bright side, “no religious group in America feels warmer toward their own group than Mormons” followed by Jews, then Black Protestants and Catholics. Mainline Protestants, evangelicals, and people with no religious affiliation bring up the rear (503). (Is anyone else tempted to toss a little John 13:35 up in here?)

On the not-so-bright side, this bullet point stuck out to me:

  • Mormons like everyone else, while almost everyone else dislikes Mormons.2

A rating of 55 or above constituted a positive rating. The “Not religious” (a fuzzy group) and Black Protestants give Mormons the lowest rating (45), followed by Evangelical Protestants (46), although they rate Buddhists and Muslims even lower (41 each). Buddhists and Muslims are rated slightly lower than Mormons. The three lowest scores belong to the three smallest religions, with the exception of Jews, who rank nearly the highest despite their relative small size.

Now, lest anyone rush to interpret opposition as evidence of truthfulness, we ought to take a few other things into consideration.

Ultimately, the authors argue that the religious environment in America should be ripe for conflict and schism based on its unique combination of high reported religiosity and high religious diversity. A lot of folks believing strongly in different things creates “a potentially volatile mixture” (494). Their explanation as to why inter-American religious conflict has, for the most part, remained relatively muted especially more recently is that an originally pragmatic toleration of diversity has become a more sure embrace through mingling and intermarrying. As people become more familiar with those of other faiths, especially through intermarriage or friendship, they realize the “other” may not be so bad after all. This would help account for the negative view of Mormons, who—like Buddhists and Muslims—are still small enough in number to miss the advantages afforded by greater familiarity. The authors discuss some other factors which might spur dislike (some directly, others indirectly, such as involvement with promoting political positions, etc.) but the familiarity factor seems to outweigh them.

FOOTNOTES

1. My review of the book is forthcoming. The survey and analysis methods are described in appendix 1 and 2, pp. 557-569.

2. The authors continue: “Jews are the exception, as they give Mormons a net positive rating (suggesting that there is a perceived commonality, given that they are both minority religions)” (509). A net positive rating is 55 or above. The rating groups include Evangelical Protestants, Mainline Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Not religious, Mormons, and Black Protestants. Mormons give every other group the highest rating with two exceptions: Jews like the “Not religious” folks by 3 more points and Mormons like the Buddhists a little less than the not religious and the Jews (chart on p. 508). The LDS Newsroom blog lists this as one of their take-aways from the book: “While data suggest that Mormons are among those viewed least positively by many American religious groups, they themselves hold relatively positive views toward members of other faiths,” “Major New Study of Religion Has Much to Say About Mormons,” newsroom.lds.org, 15 November 2010.

  • http://www.smallsimple.wordpress.com Eric Nielson

    I don’t know. I still think the fact that we generally like everyone else, in spite of not being well liked, is a good sign.

  • Paul V

    It is apparently more blessed to approve of than to be approved.

  • http://www.lifeongoldplates.com BHodges

    I like that we like, too Eric.

    I should add that the numbers are intended for consideration collectively and not individually, to use a familiar phrase. Mormons averaged a lower score than any other group except Buddhists and Muslims, and the score was below the “neutral” range of 50-55.

    To give a little perspective. the authors go on to compare this feeling to how liberal folks ranked conservative folks and vice versa. L’s scored C’s at 36 and C’s scored L’s at 38. So The average dislike for Mormons isn’t as strong as the dislike conservatives have for liberals and vice versa, but on average people hold lower-than-neutral feelings toward Mormons.

    They also compared these numbers to responses to the question of how often people hear disparaging remarks about their religion. Only about a third of evangelicals said often or occasionally, whereas 60 percent of Mormons said the same.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clarktech Clark

    Mormons are just nice people. We like everyone.

  • ExMoHoMoDon

    Perhaps it is a mistake to confuse ‘liking everyone’ with smug condescension towards everyone. When it comes to Mormons, I certainly have no illusions about the difference between the two.

  • Enoch

    That is a thought provoking comment, EMHMD,

    Could it be that Mormons say they like everyone because they know they are supposed to? No real way to gauge sincerity.

    I do think in general Mormons are very loving people… just best at loving themselves (each other, take that how you wish).

  • http://www.lifeongoldplates.com BHodges

    Perhaps it is a mistake to confuse ‘liking everyone’ with smug condescension towards everyone.

    I’m certain there are some whose “like” could more adequately be described as a certain smug condescension. This wouldn’t be something unique to Mormons, per se.

    BTW my obvious dislike of Mormons comes from a lot of familiarity, not from a lack of it.

    The authors don’t make the silly mistake of thinking that familiarity itself will make people like anyone, Mormon, homosexual, Catholic, straight, or otherwise.

    The overwhelmingly negative reactions to Mormons from non-Mormons living in Utah would suggest that my situation isn’t so unusual, in spite of the ‘familiarity’ thesis.

    The authors didn’t confine any part of the survey to a single state. What survey are you referring to?

    Could it be that Mormons say they like everyone because they know they are supposed to? No real way to gauge sincerity.

    True, and they recognize that as a drawback to the entire “feeling thermometer” concept.

  • Paul V

    My pet theory is that the idea of vicarious ordinances serves as “strain relief” for Mormons. We think almost everybody is fundamentally good and religious and cultural differences will overcome in the next life. For us, the tension lessens because of these practices. This is not true for others, because vicarious ordinances seem to be an offense.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clarktech Clark

    Smug condescension? Maybe people just don’t like to be liked the way we like them. Reminds me of college and a woman who wants you to like them in a certain way but you just like them. So they get pissed.

  • http://www.lifeongoldplates.com BHodges

    My wife is a college student who may be described that way at times. I’m not always the best at figuring out how to best like her in a way that she both understands and likes. haha

  • Steve

    There are some warning signals in this survey.

    Despite considerable visibility on the national scene (Reid, Romney, Osmonds, etc) and massive PR campaigns, we are the most disliked Christian religious group in the US.

    It is easy to dismiss that opposition by claiming 1) Most Americans are wicked so of course they don’t like us 2) They don’t understand us 3) The truth generates opposition, etc.

    My take is a bit different. I think we are so insular that that the public distrusts us.

    I constantly hear from non-Mormons that Mormons keep to themselves, that the only time we interact with them is 1) when trying to convert or 2) when we are trying to impose our beliefs on them (liquor, gay marriage, etc).

    That is a formula for dislike.

    I personally think one of our key problems is that we spend so much time on ward callings and church acitvities that many of us barely interact with the broader community.

    When I was growing up, my dad was involved with Kiwanis and my mom was in PTA, a book club and a political group. I think today that kind of community involvement is the exception among members rather than the world.

    If you were to take ten members at church, how many are involved in community choir or play groups? How many are involved politically in the community. How many join civic clubs or social groups.

    Are isolationism is very prevalent and I would argue it has been growing the past couple decades.

  • Steve

    Some typos . . and I hit the enter key to early.

    “Our isolationism is very prevalent and I would argue it has been growing the past couple decades. In my area, which is predominately LDS, I have been struck by how local politics is now dominated by non-Mormons. The reason is fewer members of the church get involved.

    We need to spend less time with ourselves and more time with our neighbors. That may mean fewer callings and letting some programs go by the wayside.

    If not, it really won’t matter how many commercials we run or how aggressively the Church markets online.

  • http://www.lifeongoldplates.com BHodges

    the only time we interact with them is 1) when trying to convert or 2) when we are trying to impose our beliefs on them (liquor, gay marriage, etc).

    In cases where someone has a Mormon coworker, or a Mormon married into the family, things like that, I think there is a greater potential for an increase in positive feelings (with exceptions, of course, see exmohomo above). But yes, I think our proselyting efforts don’t necessarily help. In terms of public figures, if you consider Glenn Beck as an example, he isn’t the most beloved man in America, he has a core following but not the majority, so bad vibes from him could also reflect negatively on our score. Even non-LDS Beck followers wouldn’t necessarily like Mormons, and he doesn’t bring it up on his show often.

    In terms of politics generally, survey respondents overwhelmingly responded negatively to religious direction on voting for political figures. How that translates into direction on policies I am not sure, but it could have an effect now even though the surveys were from a bit earlier (2006, 7).

    When I was growing up, my dad was involved with Kiwanis and my mom was in PTA, a book club and a political group. I think today that kind of community involvement is the exception among members rather than the world.

    Mormons reported high levels of non-religious volunteering and activity IIRC, but in the case of Mormon corridor Mormons this means they are more likely interacting with other Mormons.

    The amount of time spent on church activities, combined with family raising, probably makes Mormons pretty isolated from non Mormons, at least in the US west.

  • Steve

    BHodges — I think it is fascinating that with so many high profile Mormons and so much media, were are going backwards.

    I wonder if the solution may be to free more folks up from callings. I really do think we spend way too much time interacting with each other rather than those around us.

  • ExMoHoMoDon

    I certainly don’t have any scientific survey to back up my point, but I think it is still fair to say that while many non Mormons enjoy and even love living in Utah, they are mostly negative about Mormons. My time at BYU was enough for me–my visits are confined to outdoor recreation areas and National Parks in S. Utah. I think the insularity issue is indeed part of it–my family for example, almost universally has no significant interaction with anyone who isn’t a ‘member’. In 30 years, not one of my family members has ever visited me where I live,
    except once when a nephew was married in the area and I hosted a family dinner in my home. Add to that the tacit agreement that we have: My relationship with my
    family only happens if I visit them, and I never speak about anything in my life since I am ‘unworthy’ and a ‘non-member’–my Mother’s words–they never even ask about my children. I don’t think my situation is that unusual.

    While I understand why it is important to Mormons that so many people negatively view you, it makes no difference to me if Mormons like or dislike me, although obviously my family’s attitude is hurtful to me. I will just be happy for Mormons to leave me alone.

    With Glen Beck, who is mostly seen as hateful or just plain crazy, and Mitt Romney, who is seen mostly as slick and dishonest by outsiders, you do need better high profile representatives.

    Since Prop 8, here in CA public opinion has shifted towards allowing same sex marriage, although my guess is that Prop 8′s current appeal will fail and the courts will allow it based on equal protection grounds. Prop 8 may have given Mormons some temporary appeal but overwhelmingly your evangelical and Catholic buddies will temporarily welcome your money in opposing equality for homosexuals, but in the end they are not your friends.

    You should have left gay people alone in CA–we don’t care what you believe and were fully content to leave Mormons alone before Prop 8–now you are seen as enemy Number One to most gay people. I don’t see that ever changing.

  • http://www.lifeongoldplates.com BHodges

    I certainly don’t have any scientific survey to back up my point, but I think it is still fair to say that while many non Mormons enjoy and even love living in Utah, they are mostly negative about Mormons.

    I don’t really think it’s “safe to say” such a generalization based on personal anecdote. Of course, even the survey that we are dealing with in this post is based on many personal anecdotes put together. It would be interesting to poll Utah residents and see what the numbers look like, though. You could very well be right, but it’s difficult to say, even on the basis of poll results.

    My time at BYU was enough for me

    I’ve had some good and poor experiences at BYU, but I never attended as a student. For one thing, they would have made me shave! For another, who’s to say if I would have been accepted back then!

    –my visits are confined to outdoor recreation areas and National Parks in S. Utah.

    Awesome, some of Utah’s best stuff!

    As far as insularity, your situation is certainly a really difficult one, and while it may not be unusual to homosexual members of the church (it may be, I don’t know), it probably isn’t usual to Mormons at large, who don’t deal with similar variables, I would imagine. Again, we are just guessing here.

    I will just be happy for Mormons to leave me alone.

    Technically, you also seek Mormon conversation out, so you don’t always want Mormons to leave you alone. I’m a Mormon, and I haven’t been leaving you alone in the discussion because you came here presumably to discuss the post.

    With Glen Beck, who is mostly seen as hateful or just plain crazy, and Mitt Romney, who is seen mostly as slick and dishonest by outsiders, you do need better high profile representatives.

    I’m personally not a very big fan of some of the more currently-visible Mormon personalities either.

    You should have left gay people alone in CA

    When you say “you,” you are implicating all Mormons, which I can understand, but which doesn’t really hit home to me because I don’t feel your comment applies to me personally.

    –we don’t care what you believe and were fully content to leave Mormons alone before Prop 8–now you are seen as enemy Number One to most gay people. I don’t see that ever changing.

    Right, Mormons present a publicly identifiable face to an enemy opposing gay marriage. While the problem you face is certainly not caused strictly by Mormons, or perhaps even mostly by Mormons, the Church has made itself a fairly easy target for certain advocates for homosexual marriage.

  • Matthew Chapman

    “Perhaps it is a mistake to confuse ‘liking everyone’ with smug condescension towards everyone.”

    Reminds me of the conversation between the king and his prime minister.

    King: “Why do the peasants hate me? I don’t hate them.”
    Prime Minister: “They don’t hate you, Sire. They envy you.”
    King: “I don’t envy them, either.”

  • Anonymous this time

    I’m not sure I accept the premise that dislike would be eased by familiarity.

    My son applied for grad schools a half-year after his mission, so his mission was a necessary part of his resume. He got positive responses from East Coast schools in areas where there are few Mormons, yet in areas with significant LDS populations he got nowhere with schools that were less competitive in terms of admissions. Of course, I can’t prove his identification as Mormon had anything to do with it, but I can’t help but suspect it.

  • ExMoHoMoDon

    The Mormon Church and its members were the prime financiers of Prop 8 as well as the primary source of volunteers. You all needn’t be so modest. It was in fact presented as a holy mission inspired by revelation from God from Church leaders, and it was done in places like Hawaii as well, where the MC was the primary financier in the anti gay marriage campaign there, directly contributing 600,000.00–a hefty amount in a small state. You all did your job–since you believed the highest good you could accomplish was to deny equality to homosexuals. However, from a tactical perspective, the church’s biggest error was in assuming that gay people could be rolled over in CA like they were in HI. Not likely. Of course all of that is past history, and I think it likely that Prop 8′ unconstitutionality will be upheld by the appeals court, so that the MC will be left with the ire of gay people and their supporters and legal gay marriage. I suppose you can all live with that, since we are ‘the wicked’ anyway. My engagement on Mormon websites is only since Prop 8–before that, I was happy to be rid of Mormonism. I cannot foresee any time when I personally will see Mormons as anything but my enemies. With all of that said, I think you have much bigger fish to fry. My prediction is that it is just a matter of time before someone (as has already happened with the Tides Foundation) taking Glen Beck as their inspiration will murder someone. In the Tides Foundation case, the guy was caught on his way with weapons and ammo to commit mass murder against the Tides foundation personnel when he was caught. He said his inspiration for this act was Glenn Beck. Good luck with that nutcase.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris H.

    The data from the survey was pre-prop 8 and before the Fox News Glenn Beck. People have been forming views of Mormons based on a complex range of factors, including a range of positive and negative stereotypes, for a long time.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris H.

    ” I cannot foresee any time when I personally will see Mormons as anything but my enemies.” Nobody at this blog is a Beck fan and a number of us opposed Prop 8. We are also Mormons. If we are your enemies, this may not be the place for waging that war. This post is about a social science study of views, not much about telling the world why you think Mormons suck.

  • http://www.lifeongoldplates.com/ BHodges

    ExMoHoMoDon, you probably ought to learn a little more about the people with whom you’re speaking, Mormon or otherwise, next time.

  • ExMoHoMoDon

    Fair enough.

  • ExMoHoMoDon

    BTW I never would use the term ‘Mormons suck’ no matter how I felt about them. I dare say that if you understood why the term ‘suck’ is used as a pejorative, you probably wouldn’t use it either, especially in dealing with issues around homosexuality.

    Not too draw too fine a point, but I do actually believe that you all at this site are quite fair, and patient to boot. My anger is pretty raw, and I am frankly surprised how level headed you are in dealing with it.

  • Aaron

    It has been my experience that we are like Congress. In the abstract, people tend to dislike us. But when it gets down to individuals, most people really don’t feel that way at all. I’ve actually never run across anyone who did not like me because of my religion — for other reasons, sure, but not for my religion.


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